5 Frames with a Voigtlander Bessa 66 and Lomography Berlin – By Ian Whitney

I inherited my grandfather’s Voigtlander Bessa 66 from my parents around 2010, along with a collection of 35mm equipment that had belonged to my dad and me. My grandfather had stopped using the camera before I was born, so I’d never seen the Voigtlander before. I was quite taken with it. I loved its compact size and its clever folding bellows mechanism. But using it turned out to be more challenging! I shot a few rolls of T-MAX and nearly everything ended up way overexposed. So I set the camera aside.

Fast forward 10 years and I decided my official Pandemic Hobby would be photography. As that hobby grew I started to explore the older cameras that I’d been using for decoration. I was especially interested in using the Voigtlander for a backwoods canoeing trip, figuring that the no-battery, entirely manual camera would be better suited to a rough, wet adventure.

Some quick testing told me that the Voigtlander’s shutter speeds were way off, so I sent it off for repair. The shutter then broke again, leaving me with a max speed of 1/50th. So, off for another repair! The cycle of life for vintage cameras.

A birdhouse sits on a snow-covered deck behind a house.

With the shutter working correctly I loaded up a roll of Lomography’s Berlin 400. I wanted to amplify the grain a bit, so I decided to push it one stop to 800 ISO.

A black-and-white photo of a black-and-white dog sleeping on a dark couch

Now, that may have been a mistake. This combination of fast film and slow-ish shutter limited my ability to do outdoor photos on anything but a cloudy day. The Voigtlander claims to have a max shutter speed of 1/500. But the shutter control on my camera jams up if I try to go past 1/250

The shutter, aperture and focus controls of a Voigtlander Bessa 66 camera sit on the the front of the black leather bellows.
Do not try to go beyond 1/250!

Since I’d already repaired the shutter twice I didn’t want to try and force the issue. Using a yellow filter helped, since it cut about one stop of light, but in future I probably won’t load anything faster than 400 in this camera.

A black-and-white photo of the back of a brick building. Painted on the building's wall in graffiti is the word "Antifade"
The yellow filter helped a lot with this photo, as did taking it early in the day.

The Voigtlander Bessa 66s are scale finder cameras. Before taking a photo you estimate the distance to your subject and then turn the lens to the same distance. You can take a zone focus approach as well. The lens comes with two zone indicators and a handy depth-of-field tool that you can use to figure out the right focus for your shot. Sometimes you don’t get the focus quite right!

A black-and-white portrait of a woman standing in front of a collection of christmas lights. She is wearing a knit cap and glasses
Scale focus is difficult when shooting in low-light situations and you have limited depth-of-field

Once the roll was complete I developed it myself in Ilford Ifosol3. Lomo recommends 8:45, but I increased that to 13:00 because of the push. I scanned the negatives using my cobbled-together home scanning setup: a Lomography Digitaliza, Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III and a vintage Super Macro-Takumar 50mm F4 lens. I edited with Affinity Photo.

A black-and-white photo of a mural painted on the side of a brick building. The mural reads "Danko's Dairy Established 1947"

As I’ve re-engaged with photography I’ve come to enjoy the patient and slow side of the hobby, which is definitely part of shooting with the Bessa 66. It’s not a camera for quick shots; it’s a camera that requires some forethought and deliberation. But it’s also small and light enough that I can bring it anywhere, ready to capture the moment… assuming that I don’t need to capture the moment quickly.

I have more photos on Flickr, or you can follow me on Mastadon at @[email protected]

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6 thoughts on “5 Frames with a Voigtlander Bessa 66 and Lomography Berlin – By Ian Whitney”

  1. Hi Ian,

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I too inherited a camera from my grandfather, an Agfa Viking. It doesn’t take 120 film, but I’ve gotten around that and shot a couple of rolls in it. It definitely makes me feel a connection to him when I do.

    I have a Bessa I and am always impressed with what it can do. In my opinion, you’re not getting all of the sharpness that your lens should allow. It seems like it could be motion blur, as I don’t see any areas of extreme sharpness in your shots. Have you tried it on a tripod with a cable release? I know that I’ve had trouble inducing blur when I trip the shutter. In any case, you’re well on your way. I’m glad to see you are enjoying this lovely old piece of gear. Good for you for getting it working again.

    1. No attachment for a cable on the Bessa 66, sadly. At least not on mine. I think the Bessa I, II and RF have them, though.

    2. Actually, based on your comment I took a closer look at the hinge mechanism on my Bessa 66 and there is a spot in there for a cable release. Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. Philippe Renevey

    Hello, nice article. I have seen that your describe a dysfunction of 1/500 speed. I do not know if it is the same behavior but with my Rolleiflex, for using 1/500 I need to set the speed BEFORE arming the shutter. Maybe your shutter requires to do the same.

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